SHAD: Solar Observing at the Cronyn Observatory, July 15th, 2016

Partly cloudy skies, with a brief rain shower around 2:00 p.m., greeted 60 visitors (including 56 students and 4 adults) from the SHAD program, for solar observing at Western University’s Cronyn Observatory, Friday, July 15th, 2016, 2:00 p.m. They were welcomed by Professor Jan Cami who made a digital slide presentation on “Astronomy and Space Research at Western.” The SHAD program is for highly gifted high school students from across the country and included students from as far away as Newfoundland and British Columbia.

Downstairs in the “Black Room” recently graduated undergraduate student Nathalie Thibert demonstrated the “Spectroscopy Demo” with the visitors putting on diffraction grating glasses to view the spectra of 4 gas discharge lamps set out on the table, including: hydrogen, helium, neon and mercury. Undergraduate student William Hyland demonstrated the “Transit Demo”—a turntable with a lighted model star (or distant “sun”) in the middle and model planets revolving around it, with a photodiode (representing the Kepler space telescope) clamped to a laboratory stand and linked to a laptop computer. The laptop computer displayed the dipping light curve, which was also displayed on a larger screen, as various size model planets revolved around and in front of the lighted model star. These were very impressive demonstrations in the darkened “Black Room” and the students were joined by Professor Stan Metchev.

Upstairs in the dome, Professor Phil McCausland, from the Department of Earth Sciences, set up a display of meteorites and impactites on the table near the window and spoke with the students and fielded questions. The meteorites were from Western’s Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX) and the Western Meteorite Collection and represented samples from freshly fallen meteorites, iron meteorites and samples of meteorites from the Moon and Mars. The impactites were terrestrial rocks from impact craters, showing evidence of impact-related shock, melting and hydrothermal activity. There was a microscope available for students to examine minerals and chondrules in thin sections of meteorites. The meteorites and impactites represented the interaction of extraterrestrial materials with the Earth and allowed for an excellent discussion of the Earth’s place in the solar system, future impact events and solar system exploration.

RASC London Centre was represented by Everett Clark, Paul Kerans and Bob Duff. Since rain was in the forecast, Paul set up 3 amateur telescopes inside the dome, included the observatory’s 90mm Coronado H-Alpha Solar Telescope (Sky-Watcher EQ5 mount)— set up nearest the door to the roof patio—and 8-inch (20.3cm) Meade Schmidt-Cassegrain (26mm Plossl eyepiece, 77X), which was directed through the door towards the communications tower in south London. Paul set up his own 9.25-inch (23.5cm) Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain (Sky-Watcher EQ6 mount) between these 2 observatory telescopes. Everett and Paul explained to the students how these telescopes worked.

With the Sun occasionally visible, the 90mm Coronado H-Alpha Solar Telescope was moved out on to the roof patio and Paul showed a few students glimpses of the Sun between clouds through the CEMAX 25mm eyepiece (32X). 

Physics and Astronomy staff member Henry Leparskas was there with his camera taking pictures of the event. The visitors were gone by around 4:00 p.m. after an interesting and enjoyable afternoon learning about astronomy at Western, including spectroscopy, the transit detection method for finding extra-solar planets, meteorites and solar observing.